Universities as Contested Terrain: Making sense of Violent conflicts in Ethiopian Universities

By Yonas Ashine (Ph.D)


Identity politics dominate the political history of modern Ethiopia. The division in Ethiopian society is based on contested identities which have been mobilized to create notions of belonging and citizenship, as well as making enemy-friend distinction. Such mobilizations and the responses from the state are the root causes of violence in the country. Failed nation building projects and the quest for inclusiveness of nationalities, have animated Ethiopia’s politics to date. The dialectical links between the nationality questions and the responses from the state have been the main episodes on the stage of Ethiopia’s political history. Contested nationalisms and ethno-politics were the major force during the social revolution of the 1970s and the 1990s politics transformations. Identity-based conflicts and contestations has since defined Ethiopian politics.

Ethno-nationalisms and ethno-conflict are also the main challenge of the ongoing political liberalization and transition in Ethiopia. Like other public spaces, these violent ethnic conflicts have disrupted public universities countrywide for mainly the past two years. This study is a panoramic exploration of these violent ethnic conflicts in Ethiopian public universities. Studies about violent conflicts among students in Ethiopian universities are limited and most of the studies are case studies focusing on a university and therefore lack comprehensive analysis. This study tries to fill this gap by making use of published case studies written at different time, in addition to a situational analysis on the current sporadic violence irrupted in Ethiopian public universities. These violent conflicts that mainly occurred in the 2018 and 2019 are given special attention because it is during this period that Ethiopia undertook comprehensive political liberalization and opening.  Why do conflicts erupt mainly in universities during this political season? What are the causes?  Considerable numbers of students have lost their life, with many wounded students. A number of parents have decided not to send their children to public universities. This has foregrounded violent conflicts caused by identity politics as a fundamental public concern in contemporary Ethiopia.

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Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)

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